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New Possibilities for the Next Generation in Mexico
I just returned from Mexico, where I had the opportunity to witness the work of our Member Association, Mexfam. This was a particularly meaningful trip for me because these projects—focusing on reducing teen pregnancy in Mexico—were funded with a bequest from a member of our Rosa Cisneros Legacy Society.
Mexfam is a leading provider of sexual and reproductive health services in Mexico, particularly for young people. In 2012, Mexfam provided 600,000 services to youth ages 10–15 years old and entered into an innovative partnership with Mexico City’s Ministry of Health to improve the sexual and reproductive health of young people. The initiative is designed to prevent unwanted pregnancies, HIV, and gender-based violence in two large and impoverished boroughs of Mexico City, Iztapalapa and Venustiano Carranza. They hope to increase that number by 20% in the next three years—a very ambitious goal.
Life for many young people in Iztapalapa and Venustiano Carranza is difficult at best—drug use is epidemic, the risk of violence is high, and there is a large school dropout rate. Compounding these challenges is the threat of unplanned pregnancies, which can easily derail a young person’s education and future plans. By working with local schools, existing public health centers, community health promoters, and young people who volunteer to bring information and services to their peers, Mexfam is beginning to reach some of these underserved youth—and change their futures.
Through its youth program, Gente Joven, Mexfam trains local youth to provide comprehensive sexuality education and raise awareness around preventing unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. In 2012, Mexfam trained nearly 4,000 new peer educators. These volunteer health promoters range in age from 12 to 18, and have been successful in reaching their peers with lifesaving information and connecting them to Mexfam’s services.
Peer health promoters are only part of a comprehensive strategy to reach young people who would otherwise be forgotten. During the trip, I discovered that providers had been limiting young people's access to contraceptives to by requiring them to get parental consent, even though parental consent is not required under the law. I also heard from medical providers who told me they find connecting with and communicating with adolescents to be difficult.
Mexfam counters these barriers by providing advocacy and trainings for medical professionals. Mexfam, which recently secured the first-ever government budget for youth sexual and reproductive health, is currently advocating for a law that would allow medical professionals to provide sexual and reproductive health services to youth without parental consent. They also provide trainings to medical professionals to ensure that health services are non-judgmental, confidential and youth-friendly.
I also had the opportunity to spend time with a group of young people who participate in Gente Joven. Their determination to transcend their difficult environment was remarkable. When asked what they hoped to accomplish by avoiding early pregnancy and staying in school, they said:
“I want to study gastronomy. I like to cook; my mom does not have time, so I cook for my brothers.”
“I want to do something with public service, to help others as people are helping me now. The support I'm getting, I want to give it back.”
“I want to finish high school and study psychology to help traumatized children.”
Hearing these aspirations reminded me that our work goes beyond just providing services. Our programs also give young people the opportunity to plan for their futures and work toward accomplishing their dreams. Mexfam is equipping this generation with the tools of choice—and opening doors for new possibilities.